Do you have children? If not, no problem, because you might recall these yourself: the parent conference days! This ‘running-around-at-the-school-campus-and-looking-for-the-room’ where teachers are waiting for parents and their school-kids. Depending on the pupils' 'performance level', the numbers of meetings were few or many and likewise a torture or purely a matter of duty.

Recently I also had to attend these at my child’s school and before I realized, it was all over: barely ten minutes per teacher were scheduled to receive a short feedback on your child’s performance in class.
Since this ‘parent-conference-day’ my motivation to encourage my child to go to school has further decreased towards an all-time low: personally I wouldn’t attend that very school, maybe no school at all!
Actually my child’s school is a renowned ‘Gymnasium’, situated in a well to do part of a rather wealthy little town, not far away from Düsseldorf – and not a rundown place in a suburb of some desolate town in the ‘Ruhrgebiet’. But that obviously doesn’t mean anything!
Now I hope that my kid will survive school time without damage. Maybe she will discover her true talents during her time at home, or later in her further education.

To me it seems that it’s not because of the teachers that this school struggles to develop my child’s competencies in a holistic matter. They try their best within the boundaries of what the ‘school system’ opposes on them, and with the methods this ‘system’ provides to them. And these methods – which resemble a great similarity to those that are at use in many corporations and organizations – are not centered on the human, but on the process. They treat education as a process and the educated as it’s product, in the same way as the industry produces products and services using processes. And like within every well-managed process, the development get’s standardized and quality checked (What, repeatedly an F? Please leave the class!). Such processes are great for erecting skyscrapers, but not for building personal competencies.

Here the school system is falling into the same trap in which many companies are caught as well: they stick to a system approach that stems from the industrial age, which standardizes processes and thinks mechanistically. This system treats pupils (or customers) as users who equally have to be standardized. Such a system is centered on the ability to continuously check itself and its performance, and on the goal to have everything ‘under control’: it’s a technical system, not a human one. These systems likewise need to determine how things have to be, not how they could be: in it there is no place for individualism and non-aligned behavior, or for uncertainties and alternatives. But we all know that humans are all about just that: individual, not aligned, uncertain and full of alternatives!

In a short burst of enthusiasm I addressed this observation to one of the teachers I met, about the fact that is so difficult to hold a standardized lesson to a class full of individuals. She immediately went along with my thoughts and we blew the scheduled ’10 minutes’, until the next parent insisted on his term. The teacher shared my opinion that it would be better to focus on the differences in kids, rather then getting them all on an equal norm. Unfortunately she’s only a French teacher and she did not see an opportunity to change this from her position. Upon which I could report that it is the same in the industry: also there many desperately stick to technocratic processes and try to enforce all into a manageable norm.
Both of us had to release a deep sigh, and with the hope that things would turn for the better we said goodbye until next year.  

The outstanding spokesman for a better education, Sir Ken Robinson, found a great analogy when placed the education in a ‘death valley’. “In there, he said, in this unpopulated dessert nothing is really dead: it’s just dormant. It looks dead, because it never rains. If it does eventually rain, the dormant organisms flourish. Same counts for the dormant talents of pupils: a fitting ‘rain’ and they can unfold!”
Such a ‘rain’ is nothing less than a human centered approach that focuses on the latent talents of the individual in order to let these flourish.

And this has a striking resemblance to economy where a lot seems dead, until a new ‘rain’ can release the dormant resources. The question is how to water these seemingly dead organizations? Do you take a watering can? Or does it take a deluge? One that flushes out all the pure mechanical thinking and brings a human centered thinking to surface!
Whether you take a water can approach or just flood the place: in order to water your ‘death valley’ you foremost need lot of courage and conviction, and the ability to see that things are not dead, but dormant.
You need to focus on what things could be, and not only on what you see: have a design focus!

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